Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Weber, Religion, and Magic

Weber studied many world religions in an attempt to identify why Protestantism resulted in capitalism, and Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism and Taoism did not. The result of his findings was “magicality.” As I try to grasp an understanding of Appadurai’s point here, and I can’t help but feel lost in a conversation that involves capitalism, religion and magic. I find it extremely culturally intriguing to find that Weber saw magic as a great ethical obstacle from capitalism. Weber was looking to these religions to eliminate “magical thinking” such as Calvinism. An interesting angle to the discussion on magic is that of the financial success of astrologers, psychics, or tarot card operators. The concept of taking advantage of these prophecies for financial gain seems so unethical, and in the same way, typically contradictory to the beliefs and practices of the world’s main religions. Another aspect of this piece I found interesting was the comment on magic of the “schemes, scams, and distortions based on emergent forms of personal charisma” words that are often used to describes religious institutions as well as totalitarian regimes. Does financial gambling not produce the same cost benefit analysis of risk, and potential gain? I think in the context that these “magical” workers have been placed for the purpose of the piece, they have been in a way socially or culturally pushed to the side so as to make room for the studies of forecasting, risk management, calculative action. This does very much “confuse the spheres of chance and risk as technical features of human life.” I think that there is likely more to be said here on the role that religious beliefs directly affect the believes financial risks, and not just as related to magic, a concept usually denied and shut down by many institutional heads.

"The Ghost in the Financial Machine"

In my perspective ethos involved in modern capitalist greed and the religious piety involved in the sense of "the Protestant ethic" are not exactly at odds as Arjun Appadurai states in "The Ghost in the Financial Machine." Appadurai points out that "we cannot see in [modern capitalists] much of the spirit of the ascetical Calvinist businessman....rather the typical "master" of the financial universe is not a dull or nerdy accountant but a gaudy, adventurous, reckless, amoral type, who embodies just the sort of avarice, adventurism, and charismatic self-motivation that Weber saw as the absolute enemy of systematic capitalist profit making." I would argue that you absolutely can.
In amassing wealth Ben Franklin was not only acting on the chance that his predetermined path was one of salvation but also that if salvation was in fact his path then he has a moral obligation to amass wealth to do god's work. In the case of a Bernie Madoff type character wealth is amassed for very different reasons but with the same narcissistic view of moral superiority. Contrast this with the example of the Native American potluck and you can see the same ethos present in the "high-status" players of society, the inability of others to reciprocate their gifts created a temporary sense of superiority based on a veil of honor and credit just as were the capitalist ventures of Ben Franklin and pre-convicted Bernie Madoff. 
I am having trouble explaining exactly what I am thinking but in summary I think that even though the Protestant ethic is one of morality the ethos (or means of convincing one of another's ethic) is the same for both the protestant capitalist and the modern capitalist.

The Ghost in the Financial Machine - Arjun Appadurai

Marcel Mauss, motivated by his interest in the morality behind the contract, questions the force behind the obligation to return. The responsibility within the thing given provides a powerful connection between the giver and the receiver, something I have never thought about. I couldn’t quite understand this aspect though: “his sociological strategy is to induce the spirit not from the device but form some other nonmechanical source.”

“Key elements of the ‘spirit’ of capitalism… somehow anterior… this anterior ‘ethos’ begins to anticipate Boudieu’s use of the term habitus… If we look at spirit in this way, as a matter of disposition rather than of worldview, it comes closer to an embodied moral sensibility, which precedes action or organization and amounts to a collective psycho-moral disposition.”
^I enjoyed the second part of this excerpt.

Weber advocates that all varieties of avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), of adventurism, of reckless pursuit of profit, are not part of the Benjamin Franklin ethos. Instead, Weber turns to Werner Sombart who argued the most plausible answer to what inspired true capitalist discipline, stating that the “spirit of modern capitalism lay in the gradual emergence of rationalization”.
Although Weber acknowledges this idea, he combats with the idea that rationalization itself could not encourage the extreme level of commitment to moneymaking in modern day. Instead, Weber focuses on the idea that the spirit of capitalism is quite “irrational”, a concept that leads to the Protestant notion of adhering to a “calling”. Furthermore, he relates it back to Martin Luther’s idea of a calling which proves too traditionalistic (cautious) to be compared appropriately with Benjamin Franklin’s spirit concept. Thus Weber turns to Calvin in an attempt to explain a key element critical to the spirit of modern capitalism: the spirit of methodicality.

At this point I became confused with the Weber’s inclusion of religion. He points out that the “…plight of Calvin’s believer is that as a consequence of his belief in God’s power, grace, and foreordained plan for man’s salvation, there is no way whatsoever for man to intercede in God’s decision about who is saved and who is not. Furthermore, there is no way to distinguish by their behavior or by any other sign those who are saved from those who are not.” Does this give one freedom from the consequences of their actions? Later stated, it is a gamble on a gamble. If one wishes to accumulate enough wealth to resemble the life that can enhance God’s glory, the gambler is not gambling on the outcome but rather on the possibility of being one of the predetermined elect. So is one truly enhancing the glory of God in this decision by acting as if they are elected? By “dedicating my wordly life to a methodical ethical plan” will it truly change anything in the world or within yourself? Uncertainty can be terrifying but does ascetical rationality even make sense?

I am quite confused but I also don’t have a religious background. Gambling on a gamble seems risky. Yet nowhere in Weber’s account on ascetical capitalism does it mention risk?

*Later mentioned: “Risk is now part and parcel of the machinery of contemporary capitalism, and the ‘devices’ that measure, model, and forecast risks are central to the financialization of modern capitalism.”

ascetical = organized study of spiritual teaching found in Christian culture
(sorry if this was too summary based- I haven't decided how I feel about it and still pretty confused)

Appadurai, Arjun “The Ghost in the Financial Machine”. (2011).

(Contemporary finance as expecting something in return) Here we look into the force behind the obligation of return, and find that the obligation of return lies in the nature of the gift. Here is seems that the spirit is an implied moral character necessary in the finance world, as an obligation means nothing without trust of the others adherence. It is almost implied that the spirit of the giver transfers to the spirit of the receiver, as if to propose our trust within financial institutions. There is a system at work here.

The article notes that the capitalism discipline was inspired not by simple greed, but by rationalization. But Weber argues that rationalization is an insufficient source for committing to moneymaking. Weber argues that there is in fact “an irrational calling” to commit to the spirit of moneymaking.
The article also draws on Calvin and the idea that accumulation of wealth related to not being able to distinguish the saved and the unsaved? Accumulating wealth as if you are one of the elect, as in saved? By default then doesn’t this make money at the root of all evil?

“Calvinist spirit was crucial not to the ongoing, routinized evolution of capitalism but only to its originary moment (that moment which he identified more in the eighteenth than in the nineteenth century). After that moment, capitalism becomes a self-propelling machine that no longer requires the ascetical spirit of capitalism for its key players to be animated and motivated”, this passage when broken apart then means that the quintessential Calvinist, who is not a risk taker, makes a rational first decision that then leaves capitalism to no longer need that spirit, but instead self-propels. For me that suggests that the further capitalism propels from its initial rational base, the more it exists on risk, and the more its players are motivated by risk. Could rational choices be self propelling in the conversation of capitalism? Or does there have to be a risk? And can risk be self-propelling and have longevity if not started by a rational decision?

The absolute enemy of the systematic capitalist is the gaudy, adventurous type of entrepreneur that I believe comes from the result of always winning. Defying natural risk time and time again is not healthy. So what about defining the space of uncertainty? Exploiting uncertainty makes data the most valuable currency in the world, especially when the market is efficient and runs on efficiency.  Uncertainty has been forgotten. Risk has pushed uncertainty out of the picture, but how can one exist without the other?

Other world religions have not been able to start modern capitalism. Why? Proceduralism in the realm of salvation. Is he talking about moral laws? Moral laws versus magic? Faith in the market. So the market is God? And people are suffering at the mercy of consumerism in order to be saved by that same market? This is Ludacris. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Cause of and Purpose for the Coffins

I think the idea of “traditionalism” as brought up by Weber in chapter two is most interesting. This concept of working only so much as to be able to live in the ways that they are accustomed starts to enter into an anthropologic realm of study. Weber brings up the point that “people do not wish ‘by nature’ to earn more and more money.” This being true means that the concept of acquiring more and more wealth is just a construction of culture. When a capitalist society must rely on laborers from a precapitalist economy it must take into account the economic traditionalism that the workers are comfortable with. This reading really points out how easy it is for capitalists to find and exploit cheap labor in non-capitalist economies. Countries with expanding populations, the cost of labor is low, especially in tasks that require no trained skill. The century old concept of when “lower wages were believed to enhance worker productivity” perfectly exemplifies this willingness of capitalists to gain wealth not only out of their commodities but also out of their laborers, as a commodity. So depending on the economy established in a region, how exactly can the most productive wage of labor be established? 

I think too, the article “The employees shut inside coffins” by Stephen Evans shows an example of the long-term effects of this capitalist manipulation. The dog-eat-dog mentality of fighting for survival arises out of societies where one worker is easily replaced by the next, where each employer is only worth the amount of capital that can bring to the company, sometimes, or usually meaning working longer hours, harder, for equal pay.  The president of the coffin simulation company, Park Chun-Woong, told the BBC reporter “he wants to strengthen the sense of corporate togetherness.” The question becomes if the idea for this ritual was established out of an effort to better the lives of the tirelessly over worked, or simply to reduce the rate of suicide so as to not have to replace so many workers annually. Are these programs such as the simulated death rituals, the forced laughter, the stretching, that have been so said enforced “from cradle to grave” devised to decrease the competition and distress of the at risk population, or as a simulator for better more dedicated workers?

The illusion of "vocational callings"

    I am struck by a concept in Weber’s “The ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism” that I had yet to consider. It is the idea that an inherent “vocational calling” is very much an exclusively Western modern capitalist phenomenon that is directed by Protestant Christianity.
    Growing up in the rural midwestern United States plays a significant role for me concerning this topic. I bore witness to (and myself experienced) my peers struggling to identify their personal “vocational callings” that they were apparently destined to discover. The stress began by age fourteen in our “Career Paths” course and is sure to continue to haunt a significant amount for the rest of their lives. The people who are middle-aged and hate their jobs may think that they just haven’t/never will discover their “true purpose”, or consider their jobs to be a means to an end so that they may enjoy their material goods that bring them happiness. They may believe that they are serving God by acting as cogs that move along the capitalist machine.
    The idea of a “vocational calling” is reminiscent of the divine right of monarchs; their places were predetermined by God himself, and to question their right to throne was to question the most supreme being. One difference being that instead of living a life of luxuries, an Appalachian man views it as his duty to work in the coal mines or a woman believes that her duties do not go beyond the household. They are restricted rather than liberated by their “callings”. Both the rich and the poor are to think that their assigned duties are just, as they were decided by God. And a devout Christian is not to question God.
    If this concept also supported the Feudal system, then perhaps is it largely a Christian creation rather than a capitalist creation?
Is there something inherently different about modern capitalism that will allow “vocational callings” to quietly support its system for a longer duration than Feudalism?

The employees shut inside coffins - Stephen Evans

“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” 
― Walter Benjamin

It may be that the article touches the subject in a superficial and whimsical way, but in my perspective this kind of "business" practices are very telling in the sense that they are one more manner in which the utmost commodification of everyday life shows itself.
One can argue that suicide it's the ultimate act of resistance that workers are forced to do by a relentless pressure to be competitive, effective and productive from the labor market. If the exploitation and oppression extends to every aspect of a person's life and labor and leisure are no longer separate spheres and don't have separate spaces in a given society thus the reification process is so complete and profound that it causes individuals to  kill themselves, to make the ultimate act of resistance against the social relations of production that dominate their society, if theirs symbolical existence as human beings is denied by contemporary capitalism and its dominant ideology, then they denied their physical existence as well.  

But how do capitalism deals with this symptomatic act of its own effects in human beings?

It converts it in a effectivity/productivity problem and develops workshops to try to "fix" it. The process has gone as far as that even death is a commodity, one that can be sold even to the subjects whose death is being dramatized. Using their own death to scare workers into not dying in the name of productivity.

Not to say anything about the ex-funerary worker that found a new niche to explode. What a entrepreneur he must be. 

 It's also very telling that this happens mainly in one of the Southeast Asian tigers, one of the countries used as an example of successful capitalism-based development, if this is what it looks like that's very worrying.   

What is the "Spirit" of Capitalism?

     In Webers’s discussion of the origin of the “spirit of capitalism” or “modern spirit of capitalism”, he cloaks his own understanding from the reader in the beginning, eluding to the fact that they are not able to comprehend it yet without further explanation. The word “spirit” can hold many meanings such as a religious or guiding principles. However it seems this “spirit” and its “origins” he aims to unveil, could in some ways be viewed as the epistemology of capitalism, which may in fact be his intent. Capitalism itself is most commonly thought of as an economic system, or a concept which guides the western world’s financial life, not necessarily a way of being or understanding. In his examples of Benjamin Franklin’s writing, Weber points out how Franklin promotes certain virtues and ethos that accompany capitalism of that time, not just a simple drive to create more money out of money. Franklin particularly promotes the concepts of time equating money and maintaining good credit, both of which are still very relevant concerns in capitalism today. Employees are paid an hourly wage and maintaining good credit is extremely important. Franklin also justifies his ideas with religion, quoting the bible to showcase that so long as wealth was obtained legally, its accumulation served to empower and individual and did not break a religious tenant. Weber summaries this section with his conclusion that these values are still present in the capitalism of today and that they represent the basis of capitalistic culture.

·                After reading the second article for this week, I am torn between how to interpret Weber's “spirit”. In my original interpretation, I felt he was describing it more as an epistemology, however Appaduraian, sees it as more of a more informal overarching moral. I suppose my question to the class may be which they feel the “spirit” more accurately translates to, or if it fits a different interpretation.